Oblivion: stories

MISTER SQUISHY

The Focus Group was then reconvened in another of Reesemeyer Shannon Belt Advertising’s nineteenth-floor conference rooms. Each member returned his Individual Response Profile packets to the facilitator, who thanked each in turn. The long conference table was equipped with leather executive swivel chairs; there was no assigned seating. Bottled spring water and caffeinated beverages were made available to those who thought they might want them. The exterior wall of the conference room was a thick tinted window with a broad high-altitude view of points NE, creating a spacious, attractive, and more or less natural-lit environment that was welcome after the bland fluorescent enclosure of the testing cubicles. One or two members of the Targeted Focus Group unconsciously loosened their neckties as they settled into the comfortable chairs.

There were more samples of the product arranged on a tray at the conference table’s center.

This facilitator, just like the one who’d led the large Product Test and Initial Response assembly earlier that morning before all the members of the different Focus Groups had been separated into individual soundproof cubicles to complete their Individual Response Profiles, held degrees in both Descriptive Statistics and Behavioral Psychology and was employed by Team Δy, a cutting-edge market research firm that Reesemeyer Shannon Belt Adv. had begun using almost exclusively in recent years. This Focus Group’s facilitator was a stout, palely freckled man with an archaic haircut and a warm if somewhat nervous and complexly irreverent manner. On the wall next to the door behind him was a presentation whiteboard with several Dry Erase markers in its recessed aluminum sill.

The facilitator played idly with the edges of the IRPs forms in his folder until all the men had seated themselves and gotten comfortable. Then he said: ‘Right, so thanks again for your part in this, which as I’m pretty sure Mr. Mounce told you this morning is always an important part of deciding what new products get made available to consumers versus those that don’t.’ He had a graceful, practiced way of panning his gaze back and forth to make sure he addressed the entire table, a skill that was slightly at odds with the bashful, somewhat fidgety presentation of his body as he spoke before the assembled men. The fourteen members of the Focus Group, all male and several with beverages before them, engaged in the slight gestures and expressions of men around a conference table who are less than 100% sure what is going to be expected of them. The conference room was very different in appearance and feel from the sterile, almost lablike auditorium in which the PT/IR had been held two hours earlier. The facilitator, who did have the customary pocket-protector with three different colored pens in it, wore a crisp striped dress shirt and wool tie and cocoa-brown slacks, but no jacket or sportcoat. His shirtsleeves were not rolled up. His smile had a slight wincing quality, several members observed, as of some vague diffuse apology. Attached to the breast pocket on the same side of his shirt as his nametag was also a large pin or button emblazoned with the familiar Mister Squishy brand icon, which was a plump and childlike cartoon face of indeterminate ethnicity with its eyes squeezed partly shut in an expression that somehow connoted delight, satiation, and rapacious desire all at the same time. The icon communicated the sort of innocuous facial affect that was almost impossible not to smile back at or feel positive about in some way, and it had been commissioned and introduced by one of Reesemeyer Shannon Belt’s senior creative people over a decade